Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Why Netanyahu's PR exercise will not bring peace to the Middle East

Israel has "eased" restrictions on what can go into Gaza, and Barack Obama is to hold "key talks" with Binyamin Netanyahu in Washington. This, according to the official narrative, marks the two countries "repairing their friendship." The truth is somewhat more complex.

Yes, as Al Jazeera reports, Israel is "moving from a policy of barring everything except items on a "kosher" list to a system under which everything is permitted except blacklisted items." This means that consumer goods will now be allowed in, no doubt easing the suffering of the Palestinians under the blockade.

This doesn't change the fact that the blockade is illegal under international law. On top of severe and discriminatory rationing of the water supply to Palestinians, and forced eviction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, it is part of an overall policy of socio-economic apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

People will continue to suffer, especially as "the naval blockade of the coastal enclave will also continue, as will restrictions on the movement of people within Gaza." That "construction materials like iron and steel will only be allowed to enter under Israeli supervision," makes it difficult for any rebuilding in Gaza without a level of political will that simply doesn't exist at present.

But, after Netanyahu's mild chastising by Hilary Clinton for his country's policy in the West Bank, this is Israel returning from the wilderness. It has done something good for Gaza, its other crimes are forgotten, and thus both US-Israeli relations and the official "peace process" are back on track.

Except, of course, that the US-Israeli "rift" was in the first place little more than PR, and the prospects for peace remain slim.

As Fawaz Gerges, a professor at London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera, "this Israeli government has not given the international community, the American government or the Palestinian authority any reason to believe they are serious about the peace process."

Meanwhile, the main subject of talks between Obama and Netanyahu are not the peace process, but Iran.

The US has imposed sanctions, despite Iran meeting the deadline to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of a nuclear fuel swap with Brazil and Turkey. Iran then barred two UN inspectors only when it was met with further UN sanctions.

But both leaders are in "agreement on this issue" as "the sanctions that were imposed by the congress and signed by the president are certainly in line with the Israeli demand." Talks today are likely to see Netanyahu continue in his efforts "to convince the president that the Iranian threat tops any kind of a peace settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis."

All of which is entirely consistent with the course of US-Israeli relations and with attitudes to rival powers in the Middle East.

The only potential spanner in the works is that "many voices in America now are saying Israel represents a strategic liability rather than a security asset for the United States" because "what happens in the Israeli-Palestinian theatre affects the national security of United States."

We shall have to wait to see whether this jeopardises Israel's long-held position as the US's most valuable client state as time passes.

In the meantime, though, what we are seeing is the normal course of Middle East politics and the US-Israel propaganda narrative. Especially now that the Gaza Freedom Flotilla has become old news, don't expect any "breakthrough" in the peace process any time soon.